CFA Level 1

Corporate Finance - Dividend Theories


Dividend Irrelevance Theory
Much like their work on the capital-structure irrelevance proposition, Modigliani and Miller also theorized that, with no taxes or bankruptcy costs, dividend policy is also irrelevant. This is known as the "dividend-irrelevance theory", indicating that there is no effect from dividends on a company's capital structure or stock price.

MM's dividend-irrelevance theory says that investors can affect their return on a stock regardless of the stock's dividend. For example, suppose, from an investor's perspective, that a company's dividend is too big. That investor could then buy more stock with the dividend that is over the investor's expectations. Likewise, if, from an investor's perspective, a company's dividend is too small, an investor could sell some of the company's stock to replicate the cash flow he or she expected. As such, the dividend is irrelevant to investors, meaning investors care little about a company's dividend policy since they can simulate their own.

Bird-in-the-Hand Theory
The bird-in-the-hand theory, however, states that dividends are relevant. Remember that total return (k) is equal to dividend yield plus capital gains. Myron Gordon and John Lintner (Gordon/Litner) took this equation and assumed that k would decrease as a company's payout increased. As such, as a company increases its payout ratio, investors become concerned that the company's future capital gains will dissipate since the retained earnings that the company reinvests into the business will be less.

Gordon and Lintner argued that investors value dividends more than capital gains when making decisions related to stocks. The bird-in-the-hand may sound familiar as it is taken from an old saying: "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush." In this theory "the bird in the hand' is referring to dividends and "the bush" is referring to capital gains.

Tax-Preference Theory
Taxes are important considerations for investors. Remember capital gains are taxed at a lower rate than dividends. As such, investors may prefer capital gains to dividends. This is known as the "tax Preference theory".

Additionally, capital gains are not paid until an investment is actually sold. Investors can control when capital gains are realized, but, they can't control dividend payments, over which the related company has control.

Capital gains are also not realized in an estate situation. For example, suppose an investor purchased a stock in a company 50 years ago. The investor held the stock until his or her death, when it is passed on to an heir. That heir does not have to pay taxes on that stock's appreciation.

The Dividend-Irrelevance Theory and Company Valuation
In the determination of the value of a company, dividends are often used. However, MM's dividend-irrelevance theory indicates that there is no effect from dividends on a company's capital structure or stock price.

MM's dividend-irrelevance theory says that investors can affect their return on a stock regardless of the stock's dividend.

For example, suppose, from an investor's perspective, that a company's dividend is too big. That investor could then buy more stock with the dividend that is over his or her expectations. Likewise, if, from an investor's perspective, a company's dividend is too small, an investor could sell some of the company's stock to replicate the cash flow he or she expected. As such, the dividend is irrelevant to investors, meaning investors care little about a company's dividend policy since they can simulate their own.

The Principal Conclusion for Dividend Policy

The dividend-irrelevance theory, recall, with no taxes or bankruptcy costs, assumes that a company's dividend policy is irrelevant. The dividend-irrelevance theory indicates that there is no effect from dividends on a company's capital structure or stock price.

MM's dividend-irrelevance theory assumes that investors can affect their return on a stock regardless of the stock's dividend. As such, the dividend is irrelevant to an investor, meaning investors care little about a company's dividend policy when making their purchasing decision since they can simulate their own dividend policy.

How Any Shareholder Can Construct His or Her Own Dividend Policy.
Recall that the MM's dividend-irrelevance theory says that investors can affect their return on a stock regardless of the stock's dividend. As a result, a stockholder can construct his or her own dividend policy.
  • Suppose, from an investor's perspective, that a company's dividend is too big. That investor could then buy more stock with the dividend that is over the investor's expectations.
  • Likewise, if, from an investor's perspective, a company's dividend is too small, an investor can sell some of the company's stock to replicate the cash flow the investor expected.

As such, the dividend is irrelevant to an investor, meaning investors care little about a company's dividend policy since they can simulate their own.


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